La Liga: Juanmi – Malaga’s record-breaking gem

By Simon Jalie
juanmi

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Seventeen-year-old Juanmi Miguel Jiménez López became the youngest player in the history of La Liga to score a brace on Sunday, as he helped Malaga demolish Real Zaragoza with five first half goals at the Romareda.

Juanmi’s double strike capped a fine all-round performance for the Andalusian prodigy, who will not turn 18 until May 2011.

The current injury situation at Malaga played into Juanmi’s hands to some extent, as club manager Jesualdo Ferreira gave him a start in Aragon when he might otherwise have had to settle for a place on the bench if the squad was operating with a clean bill of health.

Malaga’s new signing, Sebastian Fernandez, whom Juanmi replaced against Zaragoza, did not make the squad due to physical problems and, perhaps more significantly, injuries to key midfielders Duda, Antonio Apono and Sandro Silva meant that Ferreira opted to field two strikers instead of a five-man midfield.

With Edinho as his partner, however, that still meant that Juanmi was selected ahead of more experienced club colleagues such as Albert Luque, Nabil Baha, José Rondon and Edu Ramos up front. The Coin-born striker has clearly impressed the new gaffer in training and there is no doubt that Portuguese coach Ferreira has a good eye for young players.

Ferreira has a proven track record for nurturing precocious talent – a talent which was fostered during his spell as the Portugal under-21 boss between 1996 and 2000. Ex-protégés, who thrived under the former Porto manager, include Besiktas winger Ricardo Quaresma, Manchester United’s Anderson and Liverpool’s latest midfield investment, Raul Meireles.

Juanmi’s progress has not gone unnoticed in the lower categories of the Spanish national set-up either. He was a part of the exciting Spain under-17 squad who narrowly lost to France in the final of the European Championship this year and he can boast an impressive record of five goals in six appearances at that level.

Malaga’s latest gem will benefit from the experience of playing regularly with the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Paco Alcacer, two outstanding talents in the under-17 set-up, but Juanmi has already surpassed them at senior level, as Deulofeu and Alcacer are yet to make breakthroughs for Barcelona and Valencia respectively.

Juanmi is quick, without being explosively so, but his general movement and positional sense are excellent and he possesses great technical ability. He has now made seven full appearances for the Malaga first team, even though he is still officially registered with Atlético Malagueno (Malaga B); with Ferreira at the helm and given the club’s commitment to fostering young talent—particularly in evidence last season—Malaga looks like the perfect place for Juanmi to evolve as a footballer.

Ivan Gonzalez, Edu Ramos and Francisco Portillo have already emerged as regular squad members at La Rosaleda and yet to return from loan spells are Jordi Pablo, Dani Toribio, Javi Lopez and Daniel Gonzalez, who have all shown tremendous promise.

Whether or not these players will get a chance to shine at Malaga will depend a lot on the philosophy of new Qatari owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Tahni, but the early indications are positive; despite making some significant additions to the squad this summer, Al-Tahni has expressed a desire to take his time with the project and invest in the prominent youth academy, rather than spend lavishly on big name imports. That looks like a good plan given that Atlético Malagueno, the club’s feeder reserve team, continues to churn out top young players.

Last season, Edu Ramos was the most excitedly-anticipated player to be promoted up to the full Malaga squad from Atlético and his case is of particular interest in terms of a comparison to Juanmi, as he, too, was starring for Spain’s under-17 side this time last year.

Ramos broke into the first team under Juan Ramón López Muniz and put in some dazzling displays only to fall victim to injury. He experienced a lengthy lay-off from an early stage in the campaign and struggled to break back in at the business end of 2009-10. Fit again, he is now playing for the Under-19 national side and is bound to see his minutes increase in Ferreira’s new side.

For the moment, at least, he finds himself marginally behind his younger colleague Juanmi in the pecking order. Strictly speaking, Edu Ramos and Juanmi are different players in terms of position; Ramos is more of a winger/attacking midfielder than an out-and-out forward.

But if returning stars such as Duda, Apono and Silva do herald a switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation, it is very likely that Edu and Juanmi will be in direct competition for places. Ideally, we will see a lot more of both of them in the Boquerones starting eleven in the near future.

Read more on Spanish football at Simon Jalie’s La Liga Blog

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